Fact-Checking Matt Damon's Promise About Clean Water In Stella Artois Super Bowl Ad : Goats and Soda : NPR

Gunnar Larson g at xny.io
Sat Jan 14 04:51:40 PST 2023


In a new Super Bowl ad, Matt Damon makes a bold promise: Buy a
limited-edition Stella Artois chalice and your money will help give a clean
water supply to someone in the developing world for five years.

The ad, called "Taps," reminds viewers that water is something we take for
granted. Around the world, 844 million people do not even have a basic
service providing water to their homes, according to the World Health

Matt Damon And Gary White On The World's Water Crisis
Matt Damon And Gary White On The World's Water Crisis
"If just 1 percent of you watching this buys [a chalice], we can give clean
water to 1 million people," says Damon in the ad.

The 30-second spot was purchased by Stella Artois (estimated price tag: $5
million). It's part of an ongoing partnership between the beer giant and
Damon's nonprofit group, Water.org, whose mission is to provide access to
clean water and sanitation in the developing world.

The chalices are sold on Amazon for $13, with $3.13 in proceeds from each
purchase going to Damon's charity. The beer glasses are imprinted with
designs by artists from India, Mexico and the Philippines, countries where
Water.org currently works.

Damon's statement about "1 percent of you watching" would add up to roughly
1 million purchases from the Super Bowl audience. According to Water.org,
Stella Artois would donate the $3.13 for "up to 300,000 chalices" sold in
the U.S. between January 1 and December 31.

Sponsor Message

And what exactly does that $3 buy? Can it really bring clean water to one
person for half a decade? Skepticism surfaced on Twitter.

This doesn't explain the correlation between the chalice and the water.
Like how could buying one chalice fund all that? To me it just means Stella
Artois won't help until we buy something.

— Trumpet Wom' (@trumpetgrrrl) January 30, 2018
Even water specialists weren't clear on how the numbers were calculated.

To learn more, we interviewed researchers and spokespeople for Water.org

What does Water.org do?
Despite its name, Water.org doesn't actually provide water to people in the
developing world. So your $3 won't go directly toward, say, the delivery of
jugs of water or the building of a well.

To fulfill its mission, the nonprofit has set up a custom microlending
system called WaterCredit. The group partners with financial institutions
in developing countries to lend people small amounts of money so they can
pay to get water. That might mean buying a faucet and hiring a contractor
to tap into water supplies or buying containers to catch rainwater.

Children drinking from a makeshift water pipe in a village in the Mindanao
island in the Philippines.
Jes Aznar/Getty Images
Giving people that kind of choice is a good thing, says Annie Feighery, a
co-founder of mWater, a digital platform that water nonprofits use to
measure the impact of their work. The group has worked with Water.org for
four years.

For a long time, charities would try to fix a community's water problem by
digging wells and then leaving, she says. But the wells would often
malfunction and become contaminated within a year, and they cost a lot to
maintain. Today, wells are seen as an "old-fashioned approach that we now
call the dig-and-ditch model," she says.

Although in some cases, wells are still a reasonable option. Families who
live miles away from a clean drinking water source can take out a loan to
pay for the construction of a deep borehole well, which siphons clean water
deep in the ground, or a large container to catch and store rainwater.
According to the World Health Organization, harvesting rainwater generally
provides good quality water.

Is $3 enough to cover those kinds of expenses?
Not exactly.

When someone buys the chalice from Stella Artois, $3 does indeed go to

According to Water.org's calculations, that $3 equals five years of clean
water for one person in the developing world. To come up with that number,
the group counted up the number of people it helped get water from 2014 to
2016 — roughly 3.3 million — and then divided that figure by the sum of the
group's organizational costs in the same time period: $42 million. (The
data is available in the charity's financial statements on their website.)

And the answer is: $12.50 to give one person access to water.

In this formula, the infrastructure for their water would last about 20
years. Based on these calculations, the $3 from the Stella Artois chalice,
says Water.org, would provide five years of clean water.

But that doesn't mean the loans are only $3.

In fact, the average loan taken out by a borrower from local financial
institutions, in partnership with Water.org, is about $300.

According to Water.org, 99 percent of the borrowers pay it back. To date,
the group says they have given out 2.2 million loans. When people repay the
loan, the money gets lent out to others in the community, creating a
multiplier effect, says Julie LaGuardia, a spokesperson for Water.org.

"Sometimes in marketing efforts one needs to over-simplify to make
reasonable promises to donors, retailers and investors," says John
Oldfield, a principal at the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Global
Water 2020. "But it's a good appropriate claim for the start of the
conversation around clean water."

Asked about the discrepancy between the $3 and the $300 figures, Melanie
Mendrys, a spokesperson from Water.org, says, "I don't consider that a
discrepancy. I know that the $3 does in fact help a woman or a family get
access to the money needed to get water or a toilet."

She does not think the ad is misleading. "It's an opportunity for people to
learn more and once they do they get really excited," she says. "We just
reached ten million people who received water or sanitation from our
efforts. We know what we're doing is working and we're excited to reach

And specialists do think the loan is a good approach.

"What's novel about WaterCredit is that the loan is being provided for a
home improvement," says Jenna Davis, an associate professor in the
department of civil and environmental engineering and a senior fellow at
the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. She has
looked at the evidence around the Water.org's business model.

A tap or some containers to catch rainwater doesn't sound like much, but it
can have a significant impact for low-income families. "In many parts of
the developing world, people were paying more for water in a month, for
example, buying bottled water, than would be needed to pay a regular
monthly bill if they had a piped connection," says Davis. Research has
shown that for low-income households, the obstacle to installing the
hardware or other connections is the cost, she says.

Wouldn't it be more efficient if Stella Artois just gave a few million to
Water.org instead of buying a Super Bowl ad?
That was another question raised on Twitter: Why couldn't Stella just have
forked over the money to Water.org?

"It's important to remember that this is a Stella ad just as much, if not
more, than a Water.org ad," says Jason Wojciechowski, creative director of
Corelab, an agency that runs digital campaigns for nonprofits like Oxfam,
Save the Children and Global Witness.

Wojciechowski doubts that a Game Day ad alone would rake in a "ton of
money" for the charity. The group would need to combine it with aggressive
fundraising and social media campaign efforts over a long period of time.

But he does think the ad will provide another service to the Super Bowl
audience: planting the seed that change is possible. "Showing people that
they have agency, responsibility and a role to play," he says. "The idea
that there's something people can do to end the water crisis."
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